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True Silent Genius

18 May, 2005 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Charged with the salacious rape and murder of a young female partygoer at a September 1921 weekend bash in San Francisco, silent film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, trapped in a rotund figure and cursed with a guilty grin, never had a chance. Tried three times unsuccessfully by an overly ambitious district attorney, yet convicted only by William Randolph Hearst's yellow journalism, Arbuckle's career of more than 200 comedies was over.

May 24 Laughsmith Entertainment and Mackinac Media will release The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle ($49.95 DVD), a four-disc boxed set featuring 32 digitally restored comedies, a 36-page companion book, a music video and extensive commentaries from film historians, including co-producer and Laughsmith co-founder Paul Gierucki.

“If anyone remembers [Arbuckle] today, it's primarily because of the scandal,” Gierucki said. “Our goal [with the DVD release] was to set the record straight.”

It was once written that the four comedic geniuses in silent film were Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Herald Lloyd and Harry Langdon, a grouping Gierucki said underscored 1920's societal contempt against Arbuckle.

“They never even considered Arbuckle,” Gierucki said. “He battled Chaplin for popularity. If he had continued to make feature films, his place in comedy would have surpassed Chaplin's.”

Blacklisted by Hollywood, partly in response to pressure from moral crusaders, women's groups and politicians, Arbuckle continued to direct films for 10 years under the screen name William Goodrich.

Studio mogul Jack Warner offered Arbuckle a speaking role in 1932, which led to six other roles. But a chance at theatrical redemption was cut short by Arbuckle's fatal heart attack in 1933.

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